Language Horror Stories

Language Horror Stories

Have you ever been in one of those situations in life here in Spain, when you truly believe only someone like you could put your foot in it where the Spanish language is concerned. So completely that there is only one way out, to apologize profusely, go completely red and run away as fast as you possibly can from the situation. To compound this, not even being capable of correcting your mistakes in a convincing enough way, so as not to be taken for a complete nut because of your lack of the Spanish language.

Now I’m not talking about those small mistakes in grammar or vocabulary, that all non native speakers make now and again. I’m talking about the really embarrassing types, the ones that make you go red and feel that there is some celestial force greater than your own that pushes you subliminally into these particular situations.

Well, you are not alone, and to soothe those painful memories I have put together some real life stories, told to me by my students who all will remain anonymous. However, for the greater good I believe their stories should be told, and maybe your embarrassment lessened by the knowledge that someone else out there has walked also into the proverbial door.

Story Nº1

Last summer one of my intensive course students arrived in class unable to detain her burden, and in a great need of telling her story to a sympathetic ear. She had just started working in a bi-lingual school in Valencia and was eager to make a good impression on the parents that were attending her first parents and teachers evening. When asked to show the parents into the classroom she happily agreed, went into the corridor and with a big smile shouted “con yo´s” at the expectant mothers and fathers. After the initial shock and some laughter, red faces etc the head teacher pulled her aside and said “its actually conmigo” to say “with me” in Spanish, and that although “con” means “with” and “yo” means “I”, if you say them together they sound exactly like the Spanish word for the female reproductive organ a word used as a very vulgar swear word, the equivalent to C U next Tuesday in English. So after realizing she had just called the parents a bunch of c***´s she decided that early retirement maybe her only option. Although of course no one took offence and I tried to reassure her that it was an easy mistake to make. She recovered eventually.

Story Nº2

One lunchtime I bumped into a very sweet elderly student at the meat counter in Consum supermarket, she was really trying to impress me with her ability to order her meat from the jolly red faced butcher who was patiently waiting for her order. “pon me dos pollas” she said. The butcher couldn’t contain himself and replied in Spanish “isn’t one enough” she looked at me for the explanation. You see “pollo” is chicken in Spanish but if you mess up on the genders and say “polla” instead you are actually asking for the male anatomical reproductive organ. This time I saved her the hardship of the embarrassment and said I think the butcher thought you were ordering a lot of chicken! The next class I went over the importance of getting the o´s and a´s right on the ends of nouns.

Story Nº3

Still on the subject of chicken, a very conscientious and animal loving student wanted a sympathetically grown chicken meaning a chicken who has had a good quality of life. Now sympathetic sounds like the Spanish word “simpatico” but, simpatico means friendly so she asked for “ un pollo simpatico” a friendly chicken. The shocked village butcher asked if she would like it to tell jokes as well!!

Story Nº4

A Dutch student who found it difficult to pronounce the “LL” sound in Spanish and always pronounced it as an L sound with having no real problems in communication until, one day when he wanted to say “I have called your wife” to his Spanish neighbour “he llamado tu mujer”, LL pronounced as the English ‘y’ he said ‘lamado’, L pronounced as the English ‘L’ so he actually said while smiling in a friendly way, “I’ve licked your wife”. Now if he had been a beginner his neighbour would have probably understood his mistake but, his command of the Spanish language is very good and so a little explaining was called for.

In conclusion never feel you’re the only one to get themselves into these sticky situations, and never let them stop you from making the effort when it comes to communication. I’m sure if it was the other way around there would still be stories to tell. Sometimes you may feel in class that something’s you are taught are not important and that they will ‘understand you anyway’, the problem is they may not understand you in the way you think they are. So pay attention to detail and if it’s just because you’ve made a mistake, no-ones perfect!!!!

By Connie

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If you have any other language horror stories you’d like to share.   


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